Friends and lovers: Ensemble Theatre Company’s play brings the laughs about a terrible relationship

 Playing the trio of emotionally charged 40ish divorcees from "Women in Jeopardy!" are, from left, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jo, DeeDee Rescher as Liz and Heather Ayers as Mary. Bruce R. Burr photo

Playing the trio of emotionally charged 40ish divorcees from “Women in Jeopardy!” are, from left, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jo, DeeDee Rescher as Liz and Heather Ayers as Mary.
Bruce R. Burr photo

Wendy MacLeod’s play “Women in Jeopardy!” started off with a familiar situation for many friends – watching their divorced friend find a new boyfriend “who we all thought was hideous. We could not fathom how she could be dating this man.” From there she combined the idea of the awful boyfriend with a crime story from her local paper, and out came this new work that previews Thursday, with an opening on Dec. 5, at The New Vic. The play is so new that, despite its premiere at Rochester, N.Y.’s Geva Theater, Ms. MacLeod is in town to work a little bit more on her play, trimming it down into a “lean, mean, comedy machine.”

The play stars Heather Ayers (“Sweeney Todd”) and Annabelle Gurwitch as Mary and Jo, two divorcees who do not like the new dentist that their friend Liz (DeeDee Rescher, last seen at ETC in “Good People”) has fallen in love with, called Jackson (Bill Salyers). His dental hygienist recently disappeared, and the two think that Jackson might be a serial killer. And Jackson’s swaggering arrogance only seems to confirm their suspicions. When he invites Liz’s daughter Amanda (Sophie Ullett) on a camping trip, the two friends need to both break the news to Liz and stop what they think is a crime about to happen. And that’s just the beginning of this whirlwind farce.

 Matthew Grondin as Trenner, a dazed and confused snowboarder who has the hots for Mary, played by Heather Ayers. Bruce R. Burr photo

Matthew Grondin as Trenner, a dazed and confused snowboarder who has the hots for Mary, played by Heather Ayers.
Bruce R. Burr photo
“There’s this quote about comedy that I like,” says Ms. MacLeod, though she searches for the source. “It begins in the kitchen and ends up in the stars. And that’s where this ends up.”

Ms. MacLeod started off as an actor before she attended Yale School of Drama to study playwriting. Her best known (and second) play “The House of Yes” was made into a film starring Parker Posey, an adaptation that she very much loves. Since then she’s written a total of 11 plays, with “Slow Food” being her most recent, produced the same year as this one.

Wendy MacLeod got help from a residency called The Writers’ Room, set up by Ed Sobel of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre. Many residencies help writers work on a play, but not as many follow through with a workshop production. Mr. Sobel set out to offer both and in a four month span. While Ms. MacLeod was writing “Women in Jeopardy!” the actors were being cast, which she said helped a lot. “You can write towards these particular performers,” she says. The residency also features space for audience members to sit in on all these stages of development, and for a comedy writer, Ms. MacLeod knew her jokes were landing instead of waiting for opening night.

“Part of the fun of this play is that the comedy is about a romantic relationship, but the emotional subtext is about female friendship,” she says. “Most of the people who buy tickets to the theater are women, most of them are middle aged, and yet they’re not being written about. And this is a play where people who would normally be the wives and mothers are actually the protagonists of the play.”

As for the friend whose bad choice in men started this whole play? “I don’t think she knows of the play yet,” she says. “My husband worries about these things more than I do. I’m used to getting in trouble.”

“Women in Jeopardy!”
When: Preview 8 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 4, Opening Dec. 5. Through Dec. 20
Where: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St.
Cost: $35-$65
Information: 965-5400, etcsb.org

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